Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 25 (1994) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
When George Eliot and G. H. Lewes arrived in Weimar on 2 August 1854, their expectation were high. They had come to Germany primarily to collect material for Lewes's biography of Goethe on which he had been working for some time, but the journey also represented the start of their life together. They had left London on 20 July and travelled via Antwerp, Brussels, Cologne and Frankfurt. At last they would walk through the streets where Goethe, 'the stately Jupiter', I had not so long ago walked himself. But the glimpses George Eliot caught of Weimar on their early morning carriage ride were more of a market town than of a capital with a court. At last they arrived at the Erbprinz, 'an inn of long standing in the heart of town, and were ushered along heavy-looking in-and-out corridors, such as are found only in German inns, into rooms which overlooked a garden just like one you may see at the back of a farmhouse in many an English village'.
This inn survived almost to this day. Close to the market-place, the Hotel zum Erbprinzen had its heyday in the nineteenth century. But the Hotel Elephant, almost next to it and overlooking the market, had always been the more prestigious establishment. Over the years, the more modest Erbprinz fell into neglect, decayed and was finally pulled down shortly before German unification (1990). Now the inn is to be reconstructed to look, at least from the outside, very much the way George Eliot knew it. On their first exploration of the town, Eliot's and Lewes's reaction was: 'how could Goethe live here in this dull, lifeless village?' How could he walk along 'these rude streets and among these slouching mortals'? The inhabitants seemed to them 'to have more than the usual heaviness of Germanity; even their stare was slow, like that of herbivorous quadrupeds'. Weimar, with its uninviting shops, the wares on sale often chalked on the doorposts, and its loudly rumbling, badly-sprung vehicles, seemed to Eliot 'more like Sparta' than the German Athens, as it was then known.2 The town had to them none of the picturesqueness which delighted the eye in most old German cities. Today, however, the small ochre, pink, green and white houses with their irregular, steep, red-tile or grey-slate roofs dotted with sometimes three rows of dormer windows, the neatly cobbled squares, the narrow streets where the courtly palace shares its end wall with an artisan's house, have an undeniable charm.